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After losing out on Emmanuel Sanders, is drafting a receiver an even greater priority for Patriots?

04.14.13 at 11:35 pm ET
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The Patriots’ pursuit of restricted free agent Emmanuel Sanders came to an end Sunday when the Steelers matched New England’€™s offer, allowing Pittsburgh to retain the receiver and forcing the Patriots to look elsewhere when it comes to building depth at the position.

One thing that New England’€™s courtship of Sanders tells us is that the Patriots believe they still are lacking when it comes to outside wide receiver help. And if they can’€™t find that upgrade via free agency, the inability to land Sanders means there’€™s a greater need to find a receiver in next month’€™s draft.

However, there’€™s a lot of baggage when you start to discuss the Patriots and the history of drafting receivers. Since Bill Belichick arrived prior to the start of the 2000 season, New England has never taken a receiver in the first round. And since the 2003 draft, the only homegrown receiver drafted by the Patriots who has at least 40 catches in the NFL is former college quarterback Julian Edelman.

That being said, there are some intriguing possibilities for the Patriots if they want to pursue a receiver (or two) this year. In fact, there are several prospects who are regarded as physical playmakers who, as collegians, have shown an ability line up on the outside and beat defensive backs who might try to beat them up. In short, guys who meet the definition presented to me by one NFL scout this offseason: ‘€œThe Patriots do have fast wide receivers, but they’€™re small, and require Tom Brady to be more accurate on his deeper throws. And because of their size, they aren’€™t consistent vertical threats. What they need is a wide receiver who is a vertical threat but is also big enough to be physical in press coverage.’€

To that end, here are four possibilities in this month’€™s draft and where they might be available:

Chris Harper: At 6-foot-1 and 229 pounds, the Kansas State product has the size and physical game to outmuscle defensive backs. A former high school quarterback who was recruited to Oregon as a signal-caller, he soon transferred to play closer to home, moved to receiver and never looked back. Starting at receiver full-time for the first time as a junior, he led run-heavy K-State in receiving with 40 receptions for 547 yards, and this past season he had 58 catches for 857 yards and three touchdowns. He’s not a first-round talent, but he could be available sometime in the third round or later.

Aaron Dobson: At 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds, the Marshall product has the big body and requisite speed needed to fill the spot. As a senior, Dobson was named to the All-Conference USA second team — in 10 games, Dobson caught 57 passes for 679 yards and 3 touchdowns. Dobson was slotted as the 59th overall pick to New England in the latest mock draft from ESPN analyst Todd McShay, and it’€™s worth pointing out that the Patriots have done pretty well with Marshall receivers in the past (Randy Moss, Troy Brown). He’s not a first-rounder, but he’s someone who could be available in the second or third round.

Keenan Allen: We’ve written about Allen as a possible Patriot on a few occasions, and the 6-foot-3, 210-pounder out of Cal certainly appears to be the sort of player who could step in and make a difference in the New England passing game. The wide receiver has been linked to the Patriots by NFL Network’s Mike Mayock, who said Allen compares favorably to Anquan Boldin in that he’€™s not necessarily a overly speedy player but has the physical ball skills and toughness that would make him attractive to a team like the Patriots. We’€™ve written about New England’€™s need for a Boldin type a few times — while a traditional deep threat is something the Patriots have lacked since Moss was traded in 2010, the need for a bigger, go-up-and-get-it type of pass-catcher who can beat individual coverage is something the passing game is lacking. Allen could be that guy at the end of the first round or early in the second, if New England decides to trade out of No. 29.

Justin Hunter: The Tennessee product is another big, strong receiver who has good vertical speed. In three years for Tennessee (as a teammate of Corradelle Patterson), the 6-foot-4, 196-pounder had 106 receptions for 1,812 yards and 18 touchdowns, averaging 17.1 yards per catch. He does have some positional versatility in that he spent time in the slot and outside, but he likely projects as an outside guy in the NFL. For what it’€™s worth, earlier this month in one of his latest mock drafts, ESPN’€™s Mel Kiper had the Patriots taking Hunter late in the first round.

Read More: Aaron Dobson, Chris Harper, Emmanuel Sanders, Justin Hunter

Steelers match Patriots’ offer to WR Emmanuel Sanders

04.14.13 at 6:30 pm ET
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The Steelers announced Sunday they have matched the restricted free agent offer sheet on wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, which means Sanders will stay with Pittsburgh.

The Patriots submitted an offer sheet to the receiver last week with the intention of adding the 26-year-old receiver, but with the deadline to match looming (the Steelers had to make a decision by Sunday at 11:59 p.m.), Pittsburgh decided to match it. Sanders, a 5-foot-11, 180-pounder out of SMU, has 94 receptions for 1,290 yards and five touchdowns in his three-year career with Pittsburgh.

Because of the RFA tag, if the Patriots had landed Sanders, it would have cost them their third-round pick in this month’s draft.

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NFL Draft’s Potential Patriots: Houston CB D.J. Hayden

04.14.13 at 7:08 am ET
By   |   Comments will continue to offer daily insight and analysis regarding options that might be available to the Patriots when it comes to the 2013 NFL draft. Here is one is a series of profiles of players who could be on the board when it’€™s time for the Patriots to make a selection.


Position: Cornerback

School: Houston

Height: 5-foot-11

Weight: 191 pounds

Achievements: 2012 All-Conference USA first team, 2011 C-USA Defensive Newcomer of the Year, 2011 All-C-USA second team

What he brings: Hayden still is recovering from a freak injury he suffered in practice in November, and he did not work out at the combine. In the nine games he did start in 2012, he had four interceptions and eight pass breakups. He’s been praised for his impressive instincts, speed and awareness on the field, which make him a strong defender against the run. His size and strength are just average for the position, and that combined with the injury could prevent scouts from seeing him as elite. But notes he’s a tougher, stronger tackler than his size indicates, and if teams are confident in his health, his draft stock could continue to rise. He strengthened his case at Houston’s pro day last month, running a reported 4.33 40-yard dash.

Where the Patriots could get him: Round 3

Notes: Hayden collided with a teammate in practice and tore his inferior vena cava — the vein that carries deoxygenated blood from the lower body to the heart — in November. Because of the way veins heal, he doesn’t run a risk of repeating the same injury, an injury that’s usually suffered in car crashes and has a 95 percent fatality rate. His sternum is still healing, which made working out impossible for a time, but after dropping to 167 pounds, he’s now back up to 191. It’s hard to predict whether this injury will have any long-term implications, since most people who tear their inferior vena cava don’t live to tell about it, much less play football, but so far Hayden has done all the right things to get back to his pre-injury level.

Related articles: Alive and well: Cornerback prospect DJ Hayden proves his heart at combine

Yahoo! Sports: Cornerback D.J. Hayden excels at Houston’s Pro Day months after near-fatal heart injury

Houston Chronicle: Cougars honor injured teammate Hayden

Video: Here’s a look at Hayden in action vs. UCLA in 2012.

Read More: 2013 NFL draft, 2013 Potential Patriots, DJ Hayden,

NFL Draft’s Potential Patriots: Illinois DE/LB Michael Buchanan

04.13.13 at 7:12 am ET
By   |   Comments will continue to offer daily insight and analysis regarding options that might be available to the Patriots when it comes to the 2013 NFL draft. Here is one is a series of profiles of players who could be on the board when it’s time for the Patriots to make a selection.


Position: Defensive end/linebacker

School: Illinois

Height: 6-foot-5

Weight: 255 pounds

Achievements: 2012, 2011 All-Big Ten second team

What he brings: Buchanan has good height and length for his position. He has an excellent first step and covers a lot of ground. He is good at swatting offensive tackles’ hands off his body to get separation. He also is effective at linebacker, locking up tight ends off the line, and shows hip fluidity and agility to play in coverage.

“I see myself as being able to do a lot of different things,” Buchanan told the Chicago Sun-Times. “Yes, I was asked to play defensive end here. I think I can do that at the next level — put on some more weight and improve my run defense. [But] I also think I can play outside linebacker. I think I’€™m very versatile. I can do anything a team asks me to do.”

Where the Patriots could get him: Round 3 or later

Notes: In 46 career games (32 starts), Buchanan recorded 161 tackles, 26 tackles for losses, and 14 sacks. In his 2011 junior season, he had 64 tackles and 7.5 sacks as Illinois went 7-6. His senior season was a disappointment, as his production dipped to 57 tackles and 4.5 sacks for a 2-10 Illini team. … In the summer between his junior and senior seasons, Buchanan was involved in an altercation that left him with a broken jaw that was wired shut for a week. He was restricted to an all-liquid diet, which caused him to lose 20 pounds before the season started.

Related articles: Chicago Tribune: Michael Buchanan hopes to live up to Illini standard Michael Buchanan sees himself as more versatile than Whitney Mercilus

Video: Here’s a look at Buchanan in action vs. Penn State in 2012.

Read More: 2013 NFL draft, 2013 Potential Patriots, Michael Buchanan,

Chris Price and Kirk Minihane talk Patriots Hall of Fame in new edition of ‘It Is What It Is’ podcast

04.12.13 at 11:39 am ET
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In the latest edition of the “It Is What It Is” podcast, Chris Price and Kirk Minihane talk about the nominating process for the Patriots Hall of Fame, as well as the chances of first-time nominees like Tedy Bruschi and Rodney Harrison, if Bill Parcells and Willie McGinest have a shot and whether or not some members of the current team could make it. To listen or download, click here.

NFL Draft’s Potential Patriots: Michigan State DE William Gholston

04.12.13 at 7:14 am ET
By   |   Comments will continue to offer daily insight and analysis regarding options that might be available to the Patriots when it comes to the 2013 NFL draft. Here is one is a series of profiles of players who could be on the board when it’s time for the Patriots to make a selection.


Position: Defensive end

School: Michigan State

Height: 6-foot-6

Weight: 281 pounds

Achievements: 2012 All-Big Ten second team (media), 2012 All-Big Ten honorable mention (coaches), 2012 All-Big Ten second team (media, coaches)

What he brings: Gholston has the height, length, and strong overall build of an NFL starter. He is able to get leverage on players with his strong hands and long arms. For his size, Gholston is very quick and agile. His detractors point to his inconsistency and lack of production for someone with his size, strength and ability, something Gholston acknowledged teams were asking about in pre-draft interviews.

“I respect what they say because some plays it does look like I took plays off,” Gholston said in a recent story on “But, I can say I was playing in the scheme of the defense, and I had to be in that position at that time, and that’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to be fundamentally sound this season.

“I don’t believe I took any plays off. If you take a play off in football, you can break your neck.”

Where the Patriots could get him: Round 3 or later

Notes: Gholston was suspended for a game during his sophomore season for violating the Big Ten sportslike conduct agreement. In the rivalry game vs. Michigan, Gholston punched Wolverines left tackle Taylor Lewan and twisted quarterback Denard Robinson‘s helmet in separate incidents. … Gholston’s cousin, Vernon Gholston, was drafted by the Jets in the first round (sixth overall) in 2008 out of Ohio State but never lived up to his draft status and was released after three seasons.

Related Articles: William Gholston’s subpar performance at NFL Combine

The Detroit News: William Gholston reunites with old teammate at Combine William Gholston should have returned to MSU for senior season

Video: Here is a package of Gholston highlights.

Read More: 2013 NFL draft, 2013 Potential Patriots, William Gholston,

Mock Draft, Take 4: Manti Te’o moves up

04.12.13 at 1:51 am ET
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With the draft less than two weeks away, things are beginning to take shape as team needs are solidified and prospects work closer to cementing their stock.

The biggest difference from our last mock draft is that two teams picking in the top 10 with needs at quarterback addressed those needs, as the Raiders picked up Matt Flynn in a trade with the Seahawks before shipping Carson Palmer to the Cardinals. The Raiders and Cardinals were potential suitors for Geno Smith, though the Raiders probably wouldn’€™t have gone after the West Virginia quarterback unless they could have gotten rid of Palmer.

1. Chiefs (2-14) — Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M
With all the moving parts that comes with each draft, this just continues to be the logical pick at the top for the Chiefs. They addressed the quarterback position by trading for Alex Smith, and the future of the offensive line is unclear given that the team franchised Branden Albert and cut Eric Winston.

2. Jaguars (2-14) — Dion Jordan, DE/OLB, Oregon
Assuming nobody trades into the top spot to select him, this is the earliest possible destination for Smith. The guess here is that it’€™s still too early. Yes, quarterbacks often go higher than you’€™d expect, but Smith still doesn’€™t scream ‘€œtop-five prospect.’€ Blaine Gabbert isn’€™t the answer for the Jaguars, but should they really roll the dice with such a high pick if there’€™s a chance Smith isn’€™t either? Jacksonville was last in the league with 20 sacks last season, so Jordan would be a logical fit.

3. Raiders (4-12) — Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida
Reggie McKenzie inherited quite a mess, but the new general manager clearly is doing something about it. Despite the draft picks the team had given up for Palmer less than two seasons ago, McKenzie was right to move on from the shaky veteran when Palmer wouldn’€™t restructure his contract. The Raiders have strengthened their line a bit in free agency with Vance Walker, Pat Sims and Jason Hunter, but Floyd would become the star of a line that lost Richard Seymour when the team voided his contract.

4. Eagles (4-12) — Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama
Chip Kelly’€™s first big decision in the draft likely will come down to offensive line or cornerback. Does he grab Eric Fisher and stick him at right tackle for now or does he grab Milliner and add a top young player to the secondary after its big names went bust? The Eagles released Nnamdi Asomugha and let Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie leave before signing Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher.

5. Lions (4-12) — Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan
Yes, this pick means that the top five picks remain the same as they did in the previous mock draft. That’€™s a sign of the draft starting to take shape, and if the Eagles opt for Fisher, Milliner would make sense here. The offensive line should be the priority for Detroit though, as Jeff Backus retired and Gosder Cherilus signed with the Colts.

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Read More: 2013 NFL draft, Manti Te'o, Xavier Rhodes,
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